Yushchenko addresses Congress

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko yesterday signaled his country’s intent to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union in an effort to transcend, once and for all, its Soviet past and join the family of free nations.

Addressing a joint session of Congress, Yushchenko, sporting an orange tie in honor of the recent revolution that elevated him to power, also called on the United States to repeal a Cold War-era trade measure that, he said, inhibits trade.
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Viktor Yushchenko, in front of Vice President Cheney and Rep. Tom DeLay, greets the audience.

“Tear down this wall,” Yushchenko said of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the 1974 Trade Act, taking a page from President Reagan’s 1987 call for then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to raze the Berlin Wall. The president spoke in Ukrainian; the Ukrainian Embassy provided an English translation of his remarks.

Besides lifting the trade provision, Washington should also grant Ukraine market-economy status and help pave the way for its entry into the World Trade Organization, the president told the crowd of senators, House members, administration officials and adoring Ukrainians in the House gallery.

Both moves are expected to help create jobs in Ukraine, which has yet to see the development of a free-market economy and remains riddled with communist-era factories, dilapidated roads and bridges, and dying villages with double-digit unemployment rates.

“Today, Ukraine is looking into the future with great hope and expectation,” Yushchenko said.

“Free and fair elections have brought to state offices a new generation of politicians not encumbered with the mentality of the Soviet past. They are honest and professionals and patriots. We are working as one team in pursuit of one goal — to lead our nation to success in the shortest time possible.

“We are shaping a new model of government. It must safeguard the constitutional rights and freedoms of the citizens. We want a government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Yushchenko reminded the crowd, including Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as well as other Cabinet members, that Ukrainian troops “are risking their lives shoulder to shoulder with their American counterparts.”

But he neglected to mention that shortly after taking office in early January, in a bow to domestic political pressure, he called for the gradual withdrawal of those troops beginning later this year.

Currently, 1,450 Ukrainians are in uniform in Iraq. A Ukrainian official said that next month that figure will drop to 900 and that by the end of the year there will be no Ukrainian soldiers in Iraq.

But the official added that Ukrainian “experts and consultants” will continue to work with the Americans in Iraq. “We will still keep our flag in the coalition,” the official said.
House Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) indicated there is momentum in Congress to repeal Jackson-Vanik and help Ukraine gain admission to key international bodies, despite the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops. But he acknowledged that the Iraq question could color the debate. “I think we’ll have to wait and see,” Cantor said.

A spokesman for Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), who earlier opposed lifting Jackson-Vanik because the Ukrainians had barred U.S. poultry, did not return phone calls.

Although some lawmakers have supported keeping Jackson-Vanik to use as a bargaining chip with Ukraine, Yushchenko’s call for repealing the provision prompted many in the House gallery yesterday to stand in support.

Jackson-Vanik prevents Ukraine from getting most-favored-nation status. While the United States grants yearly waivers, meaning the trade measure has no economic impact, it retains significant symbolic value for Ukrainians.

In a visit to Washington last month, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasiyuk suggested there is a link between Ukraine’s obtaining economic help now and achieving political goals next year.

Tarasiyuk and others in the Yushchenko administration fear that if they are unable to deliver on campaign promises — notably, bringing more economic opportunity to Ukraine — they will be punished at the polls in the 2006 parliamentary elections.

Yushchenko’s presidential rival, Viktor Yanukovich, remains a potent force in his hometown of Donetsk and elsewhere in eastern Ukraine. Many democratic reformers say they have yet to solidify their support and must boost their forces in the parliament, or Rada, to safeguard against a return to the pre-Yushchenko days.